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Ethan Iverson, Lee Konitz, Larry Grenadier & Jorge Rossy: Costumes Are Mandatory

Greg Simmons By

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Costumes Are Mandatory is very collegially advertised as a collaborative album featuring Ethan Iverson, Lee Konitz, Larry Grenadier, and Jorge Rossy. And while the music may indeed be collaborative, even multi-improvisational at times, it's Iverson's date and he's very clearly the leader.

The record is envisioned as an homage to—"a dialogue with," according to the liner notes—the late blind pianist Lennie Tristano, who in addition to generally being credited as a founder of the 'cool school' (an oversimplification, to be sure), and an early avant-garde pioneer, was also a primary teacher and influence on Konitz (as well as tenorist Warne Marsh). Though he is often thought of as being a somewhat separate musical line from bebop, he was nonetheless a great admirer of Charlie Parker, playing on many of Bird's early recordings in the late 1940s, and later serving as a pallbearer in his funeral. Strangely, given its stated intent, there isn't a single composition credited to Tristano on the record.

Iverson is well represented though, opening with his "Blueberry Ice Cream take 2" a relatively conventional blues with a quick walking bass line and catchy melody. The direct connection to Tristano is, of course, Konitz who's own playing in recent years has become freer, with very little melodic structure. Iverson lays out for Konitz' compact solo which has an airiness to it that floats above the straight-ahead structure of the tune. Iverson's piano work is, in places, more reminiscent of Thelonious Monk than Tristano.

The intro to "Try A Little Tenderness" is very reminiscent of Tristano's melancholy "Requiem" featuring broad, well- sustained chords before Konitz and the rhythm section rejoin with the melody. Konitz' straight ahead statement of the tune is uncharacteristic of much of his recent playing, and he barely deviates at all leaving the improvisation to Iverson.

"It's You (Tempo Complex)" pulls a Tristano trick right out of the hat by overdubbing two pianos to psychedelic, effect. At only one minute long it's enough to convey the effect without overpowering the surrounding tracks. The following straight acoustic version of the song delivers some of Konitz' best most Konitz-like improvisations: loose and searching, endlessly inventive, but still melodic and delightful.

According to the liner notes Konitz declined to play on "Blueberry Hill" stating "Sounds like something The Bad Plus should play instead."

Costumes Are Mandatory might work best because the music and the musicians have either approached Tristano with completely different competing musical influences, or in the case of Konitz, having completely absorbed then transcended his former mentor. They're not trying to imitate Tristano, but they forge just enough of a connection to make a truly interesting record that's worth seeking out.

Track Listing: Blueberry Ice Cream take 2; Try A Little Tenderness; It's You (Tempo Complex); It's You; What's New; 317 East 32nd; Body And Soul; Blueberry Hill; A Distant Bell; Bats; Mr. Bumi; My New Lovers All Seem So Tame; My Old Flame; Blueberry Ice Cream take 1.

Personnel: Ethan Iverson: piano; Lee Konitz: alto saxophone, vocals (track 13); Larry Grenadier; Jorge Rossy.

Title: Costumes Are Mandatory | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: HighNote Records


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